Working for Wages

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

It is written in Tadzkirat al-Awliya’, by Shaykh Abu Nu`aym al-Iswfahani (r.a.) of Habib ibn Muhammad al-'Ajami al-Baswri (q.s.) who was a Persian who settled at Basra.  He was a noted muhaditsin who transmitted from Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.), Shaykh ibn Sirrin (q.s.), and other authorities.  His conversion from a life of ease and self-indulgence was brought about by Shaykh Hasan's (q.s.) eloquence.  He was a frequent attendant at Shaykh Hasan's (q.s.) lectures and became one of his closest associates.

Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) was a man of property and an usurer.  He dwelt in Basra, and every day he made the rounds to collect from his clients.  If he got no money, he would demand payment for his shoe leather.  In this manner he covered his daily expenditure.  One day he had gone to look for a certain debtor.  The man was not at home; so failing to find him, he demanded shoe leather payment.  “My husband is not at home,” the debtor's wife told him.  “I, myself, have nothing to give you.  We had slaughtered a sheep, but only the neck is left.  If you like, I will give you that.”

“That is something,” the usurer replied, thinking that he might at least take the sheep's neck off her and carry it home.  “Put a pot on the fire.”

“I have neither bread nor fuel,” the woman answered.

“Very well," the man said. "I will go and fetch fuel and bread, and it can be charged to shoe leather.”

So he went off and fetched these things, and the woman set the pot.  When the pot was cooked the woman was about to pour its contents into a bowl when a beggar knocked at the door.  “If we give you what we have got," Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) shouted at him, “you will not become rich, and we will become poor ourselves.”

The beggar, despairing, petitioned the woman to put something in the bowl.  She lifted the lid of the saucepan, and found that its contents had all turned to black blood.  Turning pale, she hurried back and taking Habib (q.s.) by the hand, led him towards the pot.  “Look what has happened to us because of your cursed usury, and your shouting at the beggar!” she cried.  “What will become of us now in-this world, not to mention the next?”

On seeing this, Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) felt a fire within him which never afterwards subsided.  “Woman,” he said, “I repent of all I have done.”

Next day he went out to look for his clients.  It happened to be a Friday, and the children were playing in the street.  When they sighted Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.), they started to shout. “Here comes Habib the usurer.  Run away, lest his dust settles on us and we become as cursed as he!”

These words hurt Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) very much.  He took his way to the meeting ball, and there certain phrases passed Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri's (q.s.) lips which struck Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) straight to the heart, such that be fainted.  Then he repented.  Realising what had happened, Shaykh Hasan al-Baswri (q.s.) took him by the hand and calmed him.  As he returned from the meeting he was spotted by one of his debtors, who made to run away.

“Do not run away,” Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) called to him.  “Until now it was for you to flee from me; now I must run away from you.”

He passed on.  The children were still playing.  When they sighted Habib (q.s.), they shouted again.  "Here comes Habib the penitent.  Run away, lest our dust settles on him, for we are sinners against Allah.”

“My God and Master!” cried Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.).  “Because of this one day that I have made my peace with Thee, Thou hast Beaten the drums of men's hearts for me and Noised my name abroad for virtue.”  Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) then issued a proclamation: “Whoever wants anything from Habib, come and take it!”

The people gathered together, and he gave away all his possessions so that he was left penniless.  Another man came with a demand.  Having nothing left, Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) gave him his wife's chaddur.  To another claimant, he gave his own shirt, and remained shirtless.

He repaired to a hermitage on the banks of the Euphrates, and there gave himself up to the worship of Allah (s.w.t.).  Every night and day he studied under Shaykh Hasan (q.s.), but he could not learn the Qur’an, for which reason he was nicknamed the ‘Barbarian,’ al-‘Ajami.  Time passed, and he was completely destitute.  His wife asked him for housekeeping money constantly.  So Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) left his house and made for the hermitage to resume his devotions.  When night came, he returned to his wife.  “Where have you been working, not to bring anything home?” his wife demanded.

“The One I have been working for is extremely Generous,” Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) replied.  “He is so Generous that I am ashamed to ask Him for anything.  When the proper time comes, He will Give.  For He Says, ‘Every ten days I Pay the wages.’”

So Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) repaired daily to the hermitage to worship, until ten days were up.  On the tenth day at the time of the midday prayer, a thought entered his mind. “What can I take home tonight, and what am I to tell my wife?”

And he pondered this deeply.  Straightway Almighty Allah Sent a porter to the door of his house with an ass-load of flour, another with a skinned sheep, and another with oil, honey, herbs, and seasonings.  The porters loaded up all this.  A handsome young man accompanied them with a purse of three hundred silver dirhams.  Coming to Habib al-'Ajami’s (q.s.) house, he knocked on the door.

“What do you want?” asked Habib's wife, opening the door.

“The Master has Sent all this,” the handsome youth replied.  “Tell Habib al-'Ajami, ‘You increase your output, and We will Increase your wages.’”

So saying, he departed.  At nightfall Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) proceeded homeward, ashamed and sorrowful.  As he approached his house, the aroma of bread and cooking assailed his nostrils.  His wife ran to greet him and wiped his face and was gentle with him as she had never been before.  “Husband,” she cried, “the man you are working for is a very fine gentleman, generous and full of loving kindness.  See what he sent by the hand of a handsome young man!  And the young man said, ‘When Habib comes home, tell him, ‘You increase your output, and We will Increase your wages.’”

Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) was amazed.  “Wonderful!” he exclaimed.  “I worked for ten days, and He did me all this Kindness.  If I work harder, who knows what He will do?”  And he turned his face wholly away from worldly things and gave himself up to Allah's (s.w.t.) service.

It is worth noting for the Seeker that not once was Habib al-'Ajami (q.s.) concerned about the miracle.  Only that Allah (s.w.t.) Kept his Promise.  In the Path, there are many signs, many landmarks and so much that is the breaking of norms.  We must not be distracted but keep the eyes of the heart on the path and look for the Face.  That is enough, insha’Allah.


  1. i share your sentiments... about going 'home' sometimes.

    but other times i feel guilty, because i'm thinking like a quitter.

  2. Assalamu'Alikum,

    Thank you. I learnt that there's nothing wrong about thinking like a quitter once in a while. It reminds us that we are faqir and Allah is Ghani. As long as we don't quit.

    Ibrahim (a.s.) said who despairs at the Mercy of Allah except those who have no faith. Faith is hard. You never know how much faith you have until the shit hits the fan.



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